Issue of September 14, 2014
Mt. Province

Baguio Day Anniversary Issue
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Saving an Illegal Industry

The raids launched by the authorities against secondhand imported clothing trade made popular in the City of Baguio and in nearby localities as the wagwag/ukay ukay trade have caused confusion and outrage among stakeholders, local governments, and those to whom cheap but quality imported rags have practically become a second skin.

Until recently, when bales of these goods started rolling off from warehouses in Baguio and La Trinidad, Benguet into the custody of the Bureau of Customs, only a few knew that the commercial sale of these materials is illegal. Many were not aware there’s such a law called Republic Act 4653 passed in 1966, which seeks to protect public health and the nation’s dignity by declaring commercial importation of used clothing illegal. Despite the tolerance and acceptance it was afforded for many years in a country that has an embargo on the sale of these goods, the BOC said they cannot bend the law for practicality’s sake. They also vowed to continue the crackdown on those that smuggle these items into the country to the detriment of legitimate stakeholders and the government.

If such was the case, then someone has to explain why secondhand clothes trade was allowed to flourish and become a source of livelihood and revenue, and a cause for triumph for those who made “great finds” amid seas of rags.

Also, it cannot be denied that many items, not only imported used clothes, get past the ports through trickery and thus do not compete squarely in our markets. That is why we are puzzled about the focus on small fish – the last drop-off points of these goods, which are the average wholesalers and retailers doing business in good faith – rather than the ones directly involved in smuggling activities.

We doubt the law and the way it is implemented serve its purpose if we bark at the wrong tree, or attend to the side effects first rather than cause of the problem.

We understand the BOC might just have been jolted into action by a President who has expressed disdain about how thick-faced some of his co-servants could get in perpetuating anomalous and corrupt activities. So, we understand, the BOC is just doing its job this time to prove their agency is not or no longer one of them. But it might want starting right where the big time perpetrators of smuggling are, catching them, and not allowing them to bribe their way out again. Without them, we believe there would be no small fry.

In wanting to save an industry that has evolved into a sustainable tourist and economic activity and a source of revenue for a considerable number of years now for the City of Baguio and nearby towns, we take notice of the proposed measure of Councilor Betty Lourdes Tabanda asking Rep. Nicasio Aliping Jr. to petition the Congress for the repeal of RA 4653, saying the law no longer serves its purpose.

Tabanda reminded that ukay-ukay is now accepted even in the international markets and it is no longer degrading for Filipinos to patronize imported second hand items. She expressed concern that the anti-ukay-ukay campaign will affect the livelihood and tourism activities not only of the city but also of other local government units that support the trade. She suggests the law be repealed and allow a free exercise of the trade because it is yet to be proven that imported used clothing are contaminated and may cause illnesses to the user.

The law, as they say is harsh or in this case impractical, but it is still the law. Given the big importance many now attribute to the ukay-ukay trade, we challenge our leaders to fight for whatever fate they want this trade to have by bringing it to the attention of the Congress and defending its merits. If they can further assure the trade is indeed sustainable, that public health and national dignity will not be compromised, and pay what the government is due, there is no reason why secondhand trade must not be legalized.

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